Friday, 12 July 2013

Underemployment and precarité: The new condition of youth?

an article by Robert MacDonald published in LLinE (Lifelong Learning in Europe) issue 1/2013

Introduction: Youth unemployment in Europe

That socio-economic prospects for young people and young adults in Europe are inauspicious is an understatement. The global economic crisis of 2008 heralded challenging conditions for all European economies with unemployment, for instance, being most keenly felt by those seeking to make transitions to, or who are recent entrants to, the labour market. The youth unemployment rate in the European Union (EU) was more than double the overall rate in 2011 (European Commission, 2012). At the third quarter of 2012, 5.8 million young people (under the age of 25) in the EU were unemployed; a rate of 23.7 % and an increase of over 300,000 on the previous year (ibid.)

Of course, there are substantial variations within the EU. Compare the relatively low rates of youth unemployment in Germany (8.1 %) and Austria (9.0 %)  with the astonishingly high levels found in Greece and Spain (57.6 % and 56.5 % respectively) (ibid.) Overall, over one in five young adults in the EU are out of work. At the time of writing, EU leaders announced they were planning a new €5 billion programme of apprenticeships and training to help “the lost generation” of young unemployed (a problem said to cost the EU €150 billion a year) (Reuters, 2013).

It is against this context that this article considers the labour market situation and prospects for young people. It takes the UK as its prime example, with occasional reference to the broader European situation (the UK’s rate of youth unemployment at the end of 2011, 22 %, stood at almost exactly the EU average, 22.1 %).

The paper argues that – whilst attention to the problem of unemployment as a consequence of global economic recession is, of course, understandable and necessary – this can distract attention from a wider and deeper problem of youth underemployment.

Two different examples are given. The first draws on empirical research from Teesside, North East England that demonstrates how some working-class young adults can be caught up in long-term churning between precarious, low quality jobs and unemployment. The second example moves up the social scale to examine evidence about the declining labour market value of university education in the UK (set in a discussion of the “myth of the high skills economy”). Although coming from less and more advantaged backgrounds, what unites these young adults’ work histories is an experience of underemployment.

Underemployment is understood here as a consequence of the lack of lasting, rewarding employment opportunities that meet the aspirations of young workers. Some contemporary theorists take the trends described in the paper as evidence of a profoundly changed set of circumstances for young people in Western industrialised countries, theorising youth as now occupying a new generation prone to downward social mobility or as part of a new global Precariat class. These ideas are discussed briefly in conclusion.

Continue reading

No comments: